Public speaking is widely considered a very frightening experience which most people prefer to avoid. The fear of public speaking, or ‘glossophobia’, is statistically ranked the fourth highest phobia after the fear of death, spiders and heights. There are many reasons for this, among them a fear of being judged by the audience and the speaker’s sense of threat as the result of direct gaze. These factors can cause mild to extreme reactions – anything from slight anxiety and sweating palms to dizziness, nausea and a fright and flight response. 

According to recent studies from John Hopkins University, glossophobia has actually increased as a result of COVID-19 and the age of Zoom, even though the process of public speaking has moved from in-person to online. 

The good news however is that public speaking is a learnable skill with techniques that can help people overcome their fears and build the confidence to deliver an effective speech or, at the very least, mask video chat anxiety.

Here are five tips to help conquer your fear of public speaking:

1. Research your topic and plan your speech

Research will help make you an expert in your chosen topic and that in itself is a great confidence booster. Today, we can find information at our finger tips.  Whether using books or the Internet, knowing how to navigate through copious amounts of facts and figures and selecting relevant and interesting material for your speech will set you apart from others, helping you engage your audience better. It is important to organise your material into meaningful chunks and personalise it with your unique perspective. Having a well–researched and compelling speech will motive you to deliver it with ease.

2. Practise your speech but do not memorise it word for word. 

It is important to take as much time as possible to practise delivering your speech. Begin by saying it out loud to yourself in front of a mirror. Then, select your audience – a family member, a friend, a sibling etc. – and deliver the speech to them, being open to receiving feedback. Practising your speech in this ‘safe zone’ will boost your confidence, helping you to feel more comfortable in front of a larger audience, many of whom may be strangers. However, avoid memorising your speech.  If you do this, the delivery is more likely to seem insincere and, in the event you forget lines, it can throw you off course completely!  Instead, prepare your speech iwith short headed notes that will give you clear markers of your content flow. 

Invite your practice audience to ask you some questions regarding the speech and attempt to answer these questions. This will help you to become very familiar with the topic and will ease your nerves during delivery. 

3. Know your audience

Spend time to recognise your target audience and keep them in mind when delivering your speech. Try to think of your subject matter from their perspective. Imagine what would be engaging and relevant to them. Consider including humour and personal anecdotes to engage your audience and sustain their interest. Planning your speech with your audience in mind is a tried and tested recipe for success. 

4. Select and use visual aids effectively

If your speech requires the use of visual aids, select and prepare them carefully in advance so you can practise using them. Ensure that any visual aid you include enhances your speech rather than distracts from it. Well-chosen and purposefully used visual aids can help a speaker engage their audience meaningfully at a much deeper level.  

5. Speak with awareness of vocal variety

Focus on achieving clarity of speech and articulation. Begin with awareness of breathing for relaxation then proceed to practise clear and distinct articulation. Speakers should consider the pace of their speech, voice modulation and pauses which can be effectively used to enhance a presentation. Often a short and simple speech can leave a great impact on an audience if it has been delivered expressively, with good use of pace and pause. 

‘Practice makes perfect’ and helps to develop confidence in public speaking. Repeated exposure also allows us to hone our public speaking skills, enabling us to overcome any trepidation we may have as we become more accomplished.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, speech is power: speech is to persuade, to convert, to compel”.  Our ability to speak in public confidently, sharing our opinions and thoughts in an effective way, can have a lasting and powerful impact on our audience. Knowing what you can achieve by the end of your speech will surely make all the effort worth it!

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